“What has happened to the old-fashioned, spiritual Christmas? The cause is our disregard of Advent. The church set aside this four-week pre-Christmas season as a time of spiritual preparation for Christ’s coming. It is a time of quiet anticipation. If Christ is going to come again into our hearts, there must be repentance. Without repentance, our hearts will be so full of worldly things that there will be ‘no room in the inn’ for Christ to be born again. We have the joy not of celebration. Which is the joy of Christmas, but the joy of anticipation.” — John R. Brokhoff, Preaching the Parables.
The “joy of anticipation” Brokhoff refers to above is appropriate to the season of Advent. Each passing day marks another step towards the celebration of Christ’s birth. It is also true that along with this joy we may feel progressively unworthy with each step we take towards the manger. However, he gives strength to the undernourished and the infirm. He is not there as a reward for the strong, but as a remedy for the weak. And all of us are weak and ailing in our own way.
I read a quote by St. John Chrysostom in which he said: Is it not ridiculous to be so meticulous about bodily things when the feast draws near, as to get out and prepare your best clothes days ahead …, and to deck yourself in your very finest, all the while paying not the slightest attention to your soul, which is abandoned, besmirched, squalid and utterly consumed by desire …?
When the holiday season hits as it has this week do you find yourself doing the same things you did the years before? The Christmas decorations up like clockwork on Thanksgiving weekend and the same recipes set out for baking? Of course we do as there is a certain comfort in tradition. But if we’re not careful it can become routine, and we grow complacent and lukewarm towards the routine. It usually follows that we then develop a genuine mediocrity in our spiritual lives.
Let me put this another way. In anything else that we strive to become good at, whether it’s as an athlete or an employee or a student striving for a high GPA or to pass their driving exams, we put in a lot of practice. We push ourselves physically and mentally. We deny ourselves pleasures such as bad foods/snacks if an athlete, or late nights and parties if an employee trying for a promotion. We train hard and push ourselves toward our goal, anticipating the joy we’ll receive when we cross that finish line or earn a better position with the company. Why then is it so unusual that we would want to do the same in preparing ourselves for eternity?
Break the routine on your Advent Walk this year. Begin a spiritual training program. Push yourself to make acts of faith, hope and love, no matter how small they seem to be. Read a book by a saint or some other good spiritual writer to prepare yourself. Spend a few moments each day in silent prayer. Limit your time in front of the television, the internet or social media. Don’t just count those blessings…think of what each one of them means to you. With each single step you make on this Advent path, by God’s grace he will make a thousand towards you.
He’ll do it with such a joyful anticipation.